I read this quote today from an article that appeared in The Guardian.
“Perhaps one of the most important things to note about the teen and YA market in particular, though, is that the majority of its readers (55%, according to a 2012 study) are actually adults. Yes, you read that right: adults.”
It’s that last line that bugs me.
Right up front, I’ll cop to being a little sensitive when it comes to these attempts to explain why people of any particular age do or do not read books (that may or may not) have originally been intended for them by the author. The intentional fallacy aside, I’d like to know why we care?
If 55% of adults are reading YA novels, why does there seem to be this backhanded message that, on some level, there is something wrong with these people? I can hear the whispers…“Do they not know those books are for younger people? Wouldn’t their time be better spent reading “important” adult books?” Aren’t we past this now? Are there still sheepish grownups cowering in secret reading books for young people? Give them my number, I’ll set them straight.
Call me an idealist, but I think we’re all better off if people are reading, period. It seems to me, adults reading works shelved as YA novels might just be doing some good in this cynical world of ours that seems to prize irony above all else. Maybe one of those misguided, emotionally arrested adults will read something that resonates with what kids in their own lives are feeling. Or–and I’m getting really crazy here–maybe there’s something for them in these works to apply in their own grown up lives?! I know. It’s a radical idea. I’m probably as desperate and deluded as the poor souls who don’t know they are reading far beneath their potential.
I appreciate the fact that we need to make sure young people of every background are well-served in the book market. And I believe they are, especially in light of ongoing efforts to make the children’s book market more diverse. I also understand that all of this goes directly to marketing campaigns, and sales, and the future of publishing, blah, blah, blah. But when we over-analyze why people behave in ways that we perceive as “inappropriate” given their age, we not only discriminate, but we also discount something really remarkable that is happening in the book market: books are being published that transcend age. Isn’t that what we want from a book–universal experience?
What’s more unifying than the experience of child/young adulthood? Why must we completely lose touch with that part of ourselves? Maybe a better focus of this conversation is what connections these books might inspire? That’s reason enough to celebrate, but I think so many grown ups reading YA novels points to something even more remarkable…
We’re desperate for it these days. And most YA novels are packed with hope, even when they have bleak endings. I’d argue the writing of a YA novel is, in and of itself, an entirely hopeful enterprise, but that’s a post for another day. My concern here is creation of an opportunity to temporarily embody a younger character, if only for the time it takes to read three or four hundred pages. Might it mean a human of any age could be finding comfort, familiarity, and connection to a person they used to be. Maybe it’s someone they would rather forget and they are grateful to have lived to see their circumstances changed? Or maybe it’s someone they desperately need to remember? Either way, I say good for the 55%. Happy to be among their ranks.
Now, can we finally change this conversation to one that considers why, as a society, we insist on judging the pleasures of reading?